No worries?: Jimmie Johnson still solid in Chase after 3rd-place run

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While defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson has been far from awful in 2014, he and his No. 48 team have not quite been on their usual, world-beating form.

That made today’s Chase elimination race at Dover International Speedway important for Johnson in the eyes of some observers.

Johnson was likely to advance to the Contender Round fairly easily, but said observers wanted to see if he would make a statement on a track where he’s won nine Sprint Cup races in his career.

Johnson finished third today behind winner Jeff Gordon and runner-up Brad Keselowski in a steady performance. At the same time, he did not lead a lap at Dover for the first time since 2007.

So should we still be worried about Johnson? That’s probably just going to be our question to answer.

As for Johnson himself, he’s just glad to be moving on after finishes of 12th, fifth, and third in the opening Challenger Round.

“These first three races went pretty well,” Johnson said. “I think Chicago was probably the track where we left the most points on the table. Today, we kind of ran, finished where we ran, but we had a decent car – really strong on the long runs but just would lose too much time to make up the deficit that I had there.

“Good solid day today, happy to advance.”

But now comes the aforementioned Contender Round, which begins next weekend at Kansas, continues on to Charlotte, and ends with the mother of all wild cards at Talladega.

Obviously, nobody wants to be forced into a win or (metaphorically) go home situation heading into the ‘Dega crapshoot.

“If I’m one of the guys that wins at Charlotte or Kansas, it’s sure going to make the race at Talladega fun,” Johnson mused about the next three stops on the Chase. “Otherwise, you’re just going to be on pins and needles and stressing like crazy.

“That’s the strategy, really – try to win one of those first two so you can go to Talladega, pull them tight and let it rip.”

A win at Kansas or Charlotte would not only save him from that stress and push him to the Eliminator Round. It would also further legitimize his bid for a record-tying seventh Cup championship.

But as usual, Johnson and Team 48 won’t look too far ahead and will be taking things one step at a time.

Attention NASCAR teams: IMSA drivers available for Daytona!

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NASCAR will be making its debut on the Daytona International Speedway road course next month, and there’s a big fan who’d like to join the historic weekend.

This fan actually has impressive credentials, too — a few thousand laps around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile layout that annually plays host to the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January.

In 2014, the winning GTLM team in the sports car endurance classic included IMSA Porsche driver Nick Tandy, who rabidly has followed NASCAR for more than 30 years since growing up in England.

So why not try racing NASCAR? Especially because Tandy has the weekend of Aug. 14-16 free.

He’s not picky, either — offering up his services on Twitter (as well as those of Porsche teammate Earl Bamber) for an ARCA, Xfinity, trucks or Cup ride.

Tandy’s affinity for American stock-car racing runs deep.

His first trip to the World Center of Racing was as a fan attending the 50th running of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 17, 2008. During Rolex testing in January, Tandy, 35, said he hadn’t missed a Cup race on TV in 15 years.

Among his favorite NASCAR drivers: the Earnhardts, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch. When IMSA ran the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in 2014, Tandy stayed a few extra days at the Brickyard and bought Kyle Busch gear for himself and his children.

He briefly took the stage during a NASCAR weekend last October. After IMSA’s season finale at Road Atlanta, Tandy made a few demonstration laps and a burnout in his No. 911 Porsche before the Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway.

He also has some experience in stock cars, having raced Modified-type grass-roots series on England’s quarter-mile short tracks.

Couple that with a Daytona road course record that includes two consecutive podium class finishes (including last Saturday) and a sports car resume with 13 IMSA victories and an overall win in the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans … and maybe a NASCAR team should take a look.

And Tandy isn’t the only IMSA driver who likely would be available.

Corvette driver Jordan Taylor, who won the 2017 Rolex 24 overall title with Jeff Gordon as a teammate (and the inspiration for his Rodney Sandstrom persona), also tweeted his availability for the weekend on the high banks.

Sports car veteran Andy Lally, a GTD driver with multiple class wins in the Rolex 24 as well as 38 Cup starts (he was the 2011 rookie of the season in NASCAR’s premier series), also hung out his shingle.

There also is AIM Vasser Sullivan’s Jack Hawksworth (who just won at Daytona last Saturday), the Englishman who teamed with Kyle Busch at the Rolex 24 in January and made an Xfinity start at Mid-Ohio last year with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Many sports car drivers (such as Taylor) already live in Florida, and many are hunkering down in the Sunshine State with IMSA returning to action at Daytona last week and Sebring International Raceway next week. Because of COVID-19-related travel concerns and restrictions, several IMSA stars who live outside the country are riding out the pandemic within a few hours of Daytona with nothing to do.

Why not a weekend at the World Center of Racing?

Over the years, scads of “road-course ringers” (including some Formula One veterans) have tried their hands in stock cars at Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International.

How about considering the many sports car drivers who already have reached victory lane at Daytona by making a few right-hand turns, too?